Fresno council prospect criticized for Ashjian donation

An LGBT advocate is criticizing Tate Hill, who is running for the District 3 Fresno City Council seat, for accepting a campaign contribution from Fresno Unified trustee Brooke Ashjian, who is known for his anti-LGBT views.

Emily Cameron, an executive member at-large for the LGBT Caucus of the California Democratic Party, noted that District 3 includes portions of Fresno's Tower District, which "symbolizes the soul of Fresno's queer community, and the representative of the area has a responsibility to protect its vibrant legacy."

Ahead of Fresno's Pride celebration this weekend in the Tower, Cameron urged LGBT people to "…keep an eye on politicians who would throw us under the bus in a heartbeat if it means gaining an inch of power."

Hill, who works for Fresno Community Development Financial Institution, received a $1,000 campaign contribution from Ashjian on May 10, according to campaign disclosures. He is the only council candidate who has reported a contribution from Ashjian according to the most recent data available from the city.

Ashjian donation to Tate Hill.JPG

A campaign contribution report for Tate Hill's campaign shows he received a donation from Brooke Ashjian on May 10.

A fellow school board trustee last year joined LGBT and faith groups in calling on Ashjian to resign after he expressed anti-LGBT views in The Bee while weighing in on California's Healthy Youth Act, which requires schools to teach unbiased and medically accurate sex education, including lessons on birth control, abortion and LGBT relationships.

"My biggest fear in teaching this – which we’re going to do it because it’s the law – but you have kids who are extremely moldable at this stage, and if you start telling them that LGBT is OK and that it’s a way of life, well maybe you just swayed the kid to go that way," Ashjian said. "It’s so important for parents to teach these Judeo-Christian philosophies."

Cameron considers Ashjian's contribution to Hill an endorsement, and said "that really scares me."

"I am ashamed that a supposed Democrat (Hill) would stoop so low and cozy up to a Trump-loving, anti-LGBT Republican such as Ashjian," Cameron said. "Tate Hill is an embarrassment to the Democratic Party and should drop out of the race immediately."

Hill noted that Ashjian has made a number of donations over the years to other elected officials, including Mayor Lee Brand and Councilman Luis Chavez's 2016 campaigns. Hill called the Democratic Party "a big tent," and said Cameron's opinion was one of many under that tent.

"I believe in what Martin Luther King said: 'Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it's a constant attitude," Hill said in an emailed statement to The Bee.

In a telephone interview, Hill said he's proud that most of his campaign contributions have come from the Fresno area, and it's important to have support from locals.

"Even when you don’t agree with everything they say, you can at least have a dialogue with them," he said.

Other than the campaign contribution, Hill said he has no connection to Ashjian. Hill won't participate in the Pride parade this weekend, but his campaign will have a presence at the event, he said.

When asked if he supports LGBT issues, Hill responded by saying he supports equal access to healthy living conditions, safe neighborhoods and economic opportunities. "All those things are important to me, and my supporters who happen to be gay also see value in that message."

Ashjian declined to comment for this story.

The District 3 race is the most crowded of all the council races. Seven people, including Hill, are vying to replace Oliver Baines, who is termed out. They are: Miguel Arias, spokesman for Fresno Unified; Larry T. Burrus, real estate broker and contractor; Daren Miller, an educator; Sean Sanchez, real estate owner and property manager; Craig Scharton, a former council member and business owner; and Kimberly Tapscott-Munson, a retired librarian.